Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – UNAIDS

United Nations Headquarters lit up with the AIDS red ribbon.
The United Nations is demonstrating its commitment to the HIV/AIDS. © United Nations, New York

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) aims at preventing the spread of HIV, improving the life expectancy and quality of life of people living with HIV, and ensuring a comprehensive and coordinated approach in the response to HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS is one of the leading sources of data on HIV/AIDS and uses this information to develop strategies on how to best prevent and deal with HIV/AIDS.

The causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS extend far beyond the health sector into other areas such as education, employment, nutrition, legislation and the economy. UNAIDS therefore promotes a broad-based response to cover all aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, working within and outside the UN system. UNAIDS advocates a participatory approach, underscoring in particular the need to engage civil society and directly involve HIV-positive people. The governing body of UNAIDS, its Programme Coordinating Board, therefore also includes representatives of civil society alongside UN member states.

Switzerland supports UNAIDS because its work is key to a coordinated HIV/AIDS response based on scientific evidence, particularly in developing countries.

UNAIDS combines the resources of its secretariat with the broad expertise and experience of its 11 constituent UN organisations: UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNODC, ILO, WFP, WHO and the World Bank. UNAIDS unites and coordinates the efforts of these organisations with the goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.

Aims of UNAIDS

UNAIDS is committed to achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support. Through country-specific goals, it aims to halt and reverse the spread of HIV.

In its 2016–21 strategy, UNAIDS calls for action to fast-track the end of the epidemic, grouping its various targets along three strategic directions:

  • Comprehensive HIV prevention
  • Improved medical treatment and care
  • Reducing the stigma and discrimination around HIV/AIDS and promoting human rights and gender equality.

It will take a greater and more consistent effort in all three directions to successfully prevent new HIV infections, ensure high-quality treatment for people living with HIV and reduce the number of AIDS-related deaths. If this does not happen, there is a risk of the epidemic resurging.

UNAIDS underwent an internal reform in 2017, in line with efforts to reform the entire UN development system. This has led UNAIDS to take measures across three pillars.

  • Areas with a specific need – globally and more especially locally – are prioritised in the allocation of human and financial resources.
  • Country-level work is prioritised over global measures. This is reinvigorating collaborative action both within the UNAIDS programme and with other stakeholders.
  • Increased transparency for the population to ensure accountability for results and activities.

Good progress has been made in the HIV/AIDS response in recent years, although with significant regional discrepancies. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region worst affected by HIV. Worldwide, the number of people newly infected with HIV in 2017 was 47% lower than the peak in 1996. The largest decline in new HIV infections was seen in children. In 2017, for the first time, more than half of people living with HIV had access to treatment.

Nonetheless, serious challenges still exist. There were almost 37 million people worldwide living with the HIV virus in 2017. In recent years, the number of new HIV infections has been declining at a much slower rate. In 2017 alone, 1.8 million people became infected with the HIV virus. Many HIV-positive people not receiving treatment are not even aware they have become infected. Additional problems are created by the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS and the widening gap in accessing information and services.

Switzerland's commitment

The strategic direction of UNAIDS is aligned with the objectives of Swiss foreign policy on health in regard to infection control, mother and child health, and sexual and reproductive health. Headquartered in Geneva, UNAIDS also helps to strengthen that city's position as the seat of numerous international organisations. The Swiss parliament has therefore defined UNAIDS as one of Switzerland's priority partner organisations. This partnership forms part of Switzerland's commitment to the HIV/AIDS response, together with the country's recognised expertise in the field.

Switzerland pursues three main objectives in its dialogue with UNAIDS:

  • Stronger focus on prevention by UNAIDS:
    Switzerland is committed to increased promotion of prevention as a key strategy of UNAIDS. It also advocates making prevention an integral part of a comprehensive concept for sexual and reproductive health.

  • Reaching out to young people:
    In keeping with the defined strategic directions of UNAIDS, the SDC is focusing on preventing adolescents and young people from becoming infected. Young women account for a disproportionately high number of new HIV infections. Young people are the only age group experiencing an increase in AIDS-related deaths. This concerns young men in particular. Comprehensive sexuality education is key to enabling young people make decisions on their sexual and reproductive health and protect themselves accordingly. Moreover, access to information, services, care and treatment should be guaranteed for certain segments of the population, particularly young people.

  • Strengthening basic healthcare:
    Wherever possible and relevant, HIV/AIDS-related services should be included under general healthcare services. Examples include systematically integrating TB and HIV treatment, including HIV treatment under sexual and reproductive health and rights, or treating HIV alongside chronic diseases. The interrelations between services in health centres and community-based healthcare should also be promoted.


The developing countries most affected by HIV will continue to rely on international support for some time to come. With international funding for HIV/AIDS in decline, sustainable funding for HIV/AIDS programmes remains a major challenge. UNAIDS is helping these countries to use the available resources more efficiently, in accordance with local priorities and requirements, and to generate their own funding for HIV/AIDS programmes where possible.